Always a work in progress.
Seven Soldiers - Klarion the Witch Boy #4 (of 4)
Frazer Irving’s art on this title has really been something. Abhay noted somewhere a while back that the book’s visual execution sort of evokes a rock opera, and Marc Singer has already exposed the secret musical basis behind a character from issue #2, so you’ll forgive me for stretching the line of analysis just a bit further: the opening of this issue more than reinforces such notions, with the bound-to-the-stake Klarion (I loved Teekl’s own miniature kitty stake) about to be set aflame by a crowd, all of them pumping their fists and chanting the title of this issue, Burn, Witchboy! Burn! It’s the climactic number, you see, like the part in that one movie where Jesus is on the cross and he envisions Judas and a bunch of ladies in skull caps and white fringes dancing around in Hell (or thereabouts). Klarion doesn’t die by execution, though he does rise again, both as a de facto religious leader, and a powerfully monstrous entity of vengeance, and an adult.
But it’s not just any old adult. The Seven Soldiers project thus far has had a lot of themes running through it, as well as multiple variations on individual themes; one of the most varied and potent is the notion of transformation. It’s been present since the very beginning; Seven Soldiers #0, after all, featured one character musing “…I’ve taken this morally ambiguous urban vigilante thing about as far as I can.” That same encapsulating kick-off book briefly lunged into outright metafiction at its conclusion, with a cadre of Seven Unknown Men gathering up costume pieces for use in the miniseries to come. And throughout those subsequent chapters, we’ve (thus far) met five lead characters trapped in a state of anxiety in every issue #1. Every issue #2 (thus far) has seen four of them experience some clarifying moment (note the unifying cover motif of facial close-ups), whether it’s the death of a loved one, exposure to a new world, the recovery of lost powers, or a literal light shining down from the heavens and changing someone's costume. There’s always a gap in time at the beginning of every issue #3, during which the characters have sprung into action, and there’s always a segue into issue #4, in which the character emerges transformed, fortified, renewed, revamped. Ready to be a soldier.
Thus, one aspect of the project has been to examine both personal transformation and superhero character ‘revamping’ (transforming actions within and without the work itself, in other words); however, there’s an added complexity at work. The project might be viewed as possessing a certain distrust of ‘adulthood,’ as most vehemently expressed in Guardian #4, though also running through Klarion. The adults of Klarion’s world are shackled to a suppressive religion, the church leaders (‘adults’ of a more specialized sort) seem to be up to no good, and Klarion wants to escape, all before growing up. And even after hitting the blue rafters, he encounters children who’re sent off to the awful Red Place as soon as they are grown, in something of a twisted mirror image of Klarion’s own home situation. But Morrison understands the implications of such a course of action, and he’s not advocating that we just remain children forever; indeed, Guardian #4 is filled with suggestion as to the inevitability of maturity, but it must be maturity of the right kind. The hero must be an enlightened adult, and this journey to new, superheroic adulthood forms the core of the project’s structural makeup and schema for character development. The eager reader might even want to contrast this developmental set-up to the turgid 'maturity' of the sorts of contemporary superhero books that Morrison is prone to criticizing; these might be grown-up, but not in a pleasing way at all, and now there will be an alternative.
I’ve written before on how the ‘miniseries’ of this project don’t work all that well on their own; the concluding transformation into the enlightened adult also apparently requires a grand finale, a (non-temporal) joining of hands in the last (yet first) issue of the project. Therefore, conclusions are hard to come by. But bucking the trend a bit, Klarion ends up with something resembling a satisfying ending on its own, with Morrison keeping the series’ unique spin on the core topic at the fore for much of its run. And Irving, again, helps a lot, those little curls always spiraling on Melmoth’s devil cheeks. That particular villain wears a loudly colored coat, constantly setting him apart from the blue and white and black of both the assembled Witchfolk and his own henchmen. And he ought to be set apart; he’s the boss of the humans and the father of the Witchfolk, which nicely sets up Klarion’s final confrontation as a logical extension of the series’ initial conflict - Klarion now rebels against the ultimate adult, the ultimate bad father, and the ultimate in extra-dimensional grown-up rot. This also leaves Klarion as a child of mixed origin, shoring up the demographic construction of the Seven Soldiers leads; just as these characters are B-listers and old properties, they’re also not white males, none of them, greatly bucking the current Big Two status quo through their merely being.
But transformation and salvation are close at hand, as Klarion proceeds to fill in virtually every one of the roles he chafed against back in issue #1. By default, he’s among the leading males in the village, showing everybody the truth (though the women have their own secrets, their own powers). He essentially fills Judah’s role as Submissionary (amusingly, the religious leaders we’ve seen are here revealed to be literal automatons developed by those with true power - what’s that about the opiate of the masses?), though only to the extent that he’s a protector, transmogrifying into a delightful Go Nagai-faced (Devilman, natch) demon kitty beast, both a more obvious bit of transforming and a logical punchline to the series’ running puritans-are-pagans gag. And oh, those splashes of color! Irving also tackles the hues in this series, and he does fantastic work with the Witchfolk homeland, setting off outstanding characters with blasts of red and orange and purple. Only when Judah bleeds does he prove useful, and the colorful Klarion/Teekl Horigal thingy nicely drives Melmoth into a lowing flame state, one much like that fellow from Zatanna #1. Hmm.
Yeah, it always seems to come back to the project as a larger unit, doesn’t it? We do learn some big ‘core’ information here, specifically the secrets behind Klarion and Misty’s individual die (oooh, so is ‘chance’ really a product of hyper-intelligent design? - you still have to reach number 7 by your own initiative, though, unless you have the full pair). But this is a somewhat cleaner journey than average for this project, a bit more (dare I say it?!) standalone. Maybe that’s because Morrison has cradled one of the project’s core overarching themes in miniature form throughout the miniseries itself. Klarion goes from boy to man, but he’s an enlightened man, if still slightly sinister (but then, that’s just his upbringing - sister Beulah plainly loves nothing more than a good burning, so it’s not too surprising that Klarion/Teekl/Horigal is ever so eager to rip off some limbs). And if he ultimately swears to take action and looks toward the reader, just as Justin and Jake did in their own final issues, it at least feels like something done by his own volition, separate from the needs of his surrounding comics environs.